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JAKARTA - The president director of the State Electricity Company (PLN), Eddie Widiono, seems to be clairvoyant. Two years ago, at a seminar on electricity in Jakarta, he made a prediction that by 2003, Java-Bali would be shrouded in darkness. The reason: scarce electricity supply due to minimum PLN investments. Widiono's estimate might just be optimistic. On September 12, Asep, a resident of Cibinong, Bogor, nearly had a heart attack. A huge explosion shook his house, followed a second later by total darkness. The thundering noise came directly from next door, an electrical relay station handling extremely high voltages. Rushing outside, Asep saw one of the poles inside the station burning. "Wow, the noise was totally deafening, just like a bomb," he said. "Then there were fireworks and a sharp burning smell," he said.
Not long after the problem at the Cibinong relay station, Jakarta, Bogor, Tangerang, Bekasi, and Banten didn't have any electricity from about 6pm until midnight. The capital, usually awash with bright lights, was engulfed by pitch-blackness. The power did return, but only temporarily because it was off again the next day at 8am. Up to September 13, several areas in Jakarta were still without electricity. It wasn't until September 14 that conditions returned to normal. This was the worst incident in five years. In 1997, there was a total power blackout for 12 hours all over Java and Bali islands. Fortunately, since it happened on a Sunday, the losses weren't too major.
This time they are very serious. Approximately 4.5 million PLN customers felt the impact. Losses are estimated at tens of billions of rupiah. As reported by Koran TEMPO daily, as a result of the two-day power interruptions, the Goodyear tire factory in Bogor lost 8,000 production units totaling Rp1.25 billion. The Cibinong cement factory fared worst. With generators only capable of supplying lighting in the factory area, practically none of the machines could run. The same thing happened to nearly all cell phone companies. Satelindo, for example, claims that 638 of around 1,400 transmission and control stations couldn't function. Not only big companies felt the impact. Warung Tegal sidewalk food stalls, small stores, and home industries could only stand by helplessly. PLN itself claims an hourly loss of Rp1.5 billion.
In addition, there was total frustration everywhere. Traffic lights didn't function, causing traffic to come to an absolute standstill on the main streets. At Bogor train station, thousands of passengers grumbled disgustedly, waiting for trains that couldn't budge an inch. Due to disruption to the traffic regulating signals, PT Kereta Api Indonesia estimated a two- to three-hour delay for long-distance trains. Automatic teller machines couldn't provide cash. Clean water became a scarce commodity. Many people went to the office without taking a bath. For all the losses and hardship, the "on again, off again" state-owned company was, as usual, quick to apologize. To anticipate various demands from the public, PLN Director of Operations Bambang Hermiyanto quickly stated the policy that PLN is required to compensate for losses if the power cut lasts for three consecutive days. "If it's less than that, we don't have to offer compensation," he said.
This incident, said Widiono, was triggered by a short circuit in the main relay station at Cibinong, which in turn caused havoc with the steam power plants in Suralaya and Tanjung Priok. Consequently, all areas of Jakarta—except Central and North Jakarta—the entire provinces of Banten, Bogor, Karawang, Tangerang, and Bekasi lost 3,900 megawatts, or 72 percent of the total electricity of 5,400 megawatts needed. The second power cut, which happened on the morning of September 13, was caused by another disruption to the Saguling-Cibinong transmission, cutting off electricity flow to Jakarta, Banten, and north West Java. Once again Jakarta lost power supply of up to 2,500 megawatts.
Widiono admits that the PLN network is plagued by several vulnerabilities. In fact, he said, the transmission system is extremely vulnerable to disruptions. It doesn't take a World Trade Center-sized tragedy to disrupt the power—a kite string stuck on the cable is enough to trigger a short circuit. In addition, the majority of the transmission lines in Java and Bali don't have an adequate back-up system. The PLN electricity distribution relies on a transmission course from west to east (see map). As a result, if one of the stations in the middle has a problem, the supply can't be patched from another course. In the meantime, the development of the south course, to function as a reserve system, won't be completed for at least two years. At the moment, only the western part of Java is equipped with a back-up route to overcome problems in the main course.
Still, Widiono asks that the public not be too concerned. Although he doesn't dare to guarantee that this troublesome incident will not occur again, he says that power cuts of that magnitude don't happen too often. What is certain, he adds, is that the problem wasn't due to sabotage or any deliberate act. "According to our findings, this was caused by a technical problem only," he says. However, PLN Labor Union chief Batara Lumbanraja, says the root of the problem is mismanagement and rampant corruption within PLN. All electricity systems should have sophisticated protection systems, he argued. That way power cuts are rare, except if there's not enough power at the power plant or if there are external natural causes.
Lumbanraja suspects that the power blackout occurred simply because the protection system doesn't work. It's highly likely, he added, that this happened because a number of the installations weren't functioning well. Why not? Thanks to the reduced quality of many projects, built through an intrigue-laden process and direct appointments. The problem became increasingly serious in the 1980s, when PLN no longer hired consultants to prepare a comprehensive design for building power plants. Consequently, many networks didn't function at optimal capacity. Lumbanraja points out that hundreds of main 150-kV relay stations line the roads at a distance of mere kilometers from each other. In the cities in other countries, a 70-kV station is enough. In addition to the 70-kV stations being cheaper, the 150-kVs are only used for long-distance transmissions. So, says Lumbanraja laughingly, "Jakarta shouldn't experience any blackouts, because its stations are the most expensive in the world."

Posted in General @ 23 September 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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